Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Storage Housings for Cased Photographs


The Iconography Collection, which I have been working with this year, includes many non-traditional items, such as paintings and three dimensional objects, as well as items of various sizes. As this is a library, most of our storage spaces are divided into typical library shelving, and it can sometimes be a challenge with this type of collection to keep items in the desired order while using the available space efficiently and providing proper protection for the objects. This subject was also addressed in the recent Northwestern University "Beyond the Book" Blog Post by Stephanie Growler, entitled "Fitting In: Storing Objects in Library Stacks" .

I was inspired by this blog post to create a folder structure, similar to the one depicted for petri dishes, during my rehousing project for a collection of cased photographs within the Iconography Collection. While this group of cased photographs is considered a single item, as it is cataloged under one item number, Iconography 1507, it includes over 75 cased photographs, mainly daguerreotypes and ambrotypes and a few tintypes.

Ambrotype on the left, daguerreotype on the right, missing cases.

Example of an ambrotype in an unusual case with two openings.

I wanted to improve the housing because the cased photographs were placed haphazardly in two boxes and were housed in poor quality envelopes. They were not properly enclosed or protected and were poorly organized, which increased the risk of damage and dissociation.

Iconography 1507 Box 1, cased photographs stored in envelopes.

The Challenges

- Utilize the same exterior boxes so that the objects will occupy the same space on the shelves.

- Objects needed to be stored vertically. Housing objects horizontally was not the best option for the space, given the large number of small items, and the objects needed to stay in the same place on the shelves in order to maintain chronological order.

- Housing items individually on the shelves was not ideal because this would have resulted in many small, loose items, as well as inefficient use of the space.

- Standardize the housing for a majority of the objects. Most objects were 3 3/4" x 4 3/4" or smaller, but several were larger.

- Keep the objects in alphabetical order within the boxes while meeting other goals.

- Create secure, durable enclosures with archival (non-damaging) materials.


-Decided to modify pre-made folders to fit approximately 2 cased photographs per folder, with two folders fitting next to each other inside of the box. This allows for enough protection while taking up less space than pre-made standardized boxes. Using pre-made folders also saves time and expense.

        - Bonus: Only 3 items did not fit inside the chosen folder size, which meant the folders could be           mostly standardized. Out of 35 folders, only 3 required larger dimensions.

Overall view of modified folder containing two cased photographs.
-Used blue corrugated board scraps for the walls of the boxes. This gave me the opportunity
to use up many scraps, while providing added protection for the objects.

-Added Volara on lids, custom fit to the individual compartments, to create added support and pressure.

-Added Mylar strips to lift cased photographs up and out of compartments, or thumb-slots if possible.

-Embedded Velcro in walls of folder. This allows the folder to be flush on all sides and does not
take up more space. However, the Velcro is time-consuming to attach. We used PVA which took a long time to dry, and was not always immediately successful if not enough PVA was used.

Interior view, showing two daguerreotypes.

Once I had completed a prototype and determined a workflow, Deborah Howe and Stephanie Wolff helped to make many folders, which made the project go quickly!

Deborah Howe and Stephanie Wolff helping to make custom folders.

Tips for batch construction of folders

1. First group the cased photographs in pairs according to alphabetical order and size to determine the      number and size of folders needed.

2. If trimming the folders so that two will fit adjacent in the box, do not use the spine to square the         edge! The spines are cloth and are irregular. Use the boards only, otherwise you can end up with off-square, irregular folders.

3. Calculate the number of strips of corrugated board you will need in which sizes, then cut these
    standardized pieces accordingly. This takes time, but it is worth it. Extras are also good idea.
         a. In general, avoid making strips thinner than 1 inch. If walls need to be thinner than this,                        then turn on their sides.
         b. Avoid leaving space in the joints between the walls, and make sure the walls are as flush as                  possible.

4. Use a tape gun or double-sided tape to build walls from corrugated wall pieces.

5. When attaching the walls to the folder use PVA. At first I attached to the bottom of the folder            using double-sided tape, but found this resulted in an unstable structure. PVA in the joints between     the walls is also key.

6. Cut space on top of a wall for Velcro, and use sandpaper on lid to make slightly rougher surface.         Attach with PVA and weight. This will likely need about 8 hours to dry, but longer is always               better.

7. It is recommended that you allow the Volara to dry under a good amount of weight, then close the       box and weight more. Otherwise, you can may get a lot of warping of the lid.

The design may be modified slightly (and easily) to accommodate cased photographs of different sizes:

In the end, we made 35 folders. Of these, 16 folders were exactly the same inside and out, 32 have the same exterior dimensions. Only 3 needed larger folders, which are oriented horizontally.

Both boxes, filled with cased photographs in new folders.

Written by Tessa Gadomski

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